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Silicon Valley course combines engineering, entrepreneurship

Credit: Celia Ludwinski/Photo Editor Credit: Celia Ludwinski/Photo Editor

This summer, students will have the opportunity to develop their own Facebook or iPhone applications at Carnegie Mellon’s Silicon Valley campus in the 12-week course 96-800: Real World Software Engineering for Entrepreneurs.

The class will be taught by adjunct professor Scott Russell and Director of Software Engineering Todd Sedano. Russell and Sedano graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1982 and 1996, respectively, both receiving degrees in mathematics and computer science.

There are few courses available to undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon that blur the line between the classroom and the real world.

“CMU teaches many first-rate courses in software engineering and entrepreneurship,” Russell stated. “However, for students who want to start a software company some day, the opportunity to learn from experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists while living in Silicon Valley is unique.”

Students in 96-800 will build an original application, present it to a real venture capital firm, post it on Facebook or the iPhone App Store, and finally be graded on the success and profitability of the application.

Sedano described it as “American Idol for geeks where VCs [venture capitalists] play the role of Simon Cowell.”

While building an original and profitable application for Facebook or the iPhone in just 12 weeks certainly sounds difficult, Sedano and Russell stress how Facebook and the iPhone are easy platforms to work with and have much potential.

“We all know that the best software applications are easy to use. We believe the key to making it easy is to get customer feedback early and often. The Facebook and iPhone platforms now allow you to do just that,” Russell said. Understanding the marketplace is a key aspect of making a successful application, added Sedano. “Right now successful Facebook apps are mostly casual games. The larger screen of the iPad is a fundamental game changer for iPhone development.”

Both Sedano and Russell stressed a very customer-centric approach when developing applications.

“The course is encouraging student teams to develop and launch a Facebook or iPhone application because it is possible to build simple applications quickly and get real customer feedback,” explained Russell.

“Determine who is your target user group and figure out what problem you are solving for them. If possible, start talking to people who might use your product. Work out paper prototypes and show them to people.”

“The course attracted me as the best learning program on how to build a profitable software business from an idea,” said master’s student Reggie Nair, who will be taking the course. “Being an experienced software engineer, I know how to win the technical challenges. However, the steps to raise funds, marketing, and revenue generation are a mystery.”

Interested students are expected to form groups of two to four prior to enrollment in the course. Although building any type of software should require a team with at least one member with proven computer skills, Sedano encourages other majors to join as well. “I’d love to see teams with people from different colleges,” he said. “Spend time trying to form a team with people of different skill sets.” The course itself is open to any Carnegie Mellon students regardless of degree, focus, or year, so long as the student is in a team.

Space in the course is extremely limited. Any students planning to submit an application should e-mail Sedano at todd.sedano@sv.cmu.edu. For more details, check out www.96800.sv.cmu.edu.